Helping Someone You Love
Information for Friends and Family

Help for Families Living with OCD

Even if you think you’ve already tried everything possible to get rid of OCD, you can make changes now that really can help bring relief to the whole household.

When someone in your family has OCD, everyone is affected.  It’s natural to have strong emotions about this unwanted addition to your relationship.  Feelings can include frustration, resentment, anger, embarrassment and exhaustion from trying to manage a home where OCD seems to be in control.

If your loved one is undergoing OCD treatment, you can play an important role in his or her recovery.  If you are at a point where you only suspect that OCD may be the problem, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis so that treatment can begin—whether for OCD or another anxiety disorder that may be causing stressful behavior.  If the person who has OCD refuses to get treatment, you’ll need strategies and behavioral tactics to influence his or her journey toward understanding there is help for this disorder.

You already know there are no quick fixes for OCD.  But even if you think you’ve already tried everything possible to get rid of OCD, you can make changes now that can help bring relief to the whole household.  And once you see some of the tactics working, you will be able to experience an increase in more positive emotions, including optimism, hope and accomplishment.

What’s Behind The Problem of OCD

People with OCD aren’t performing the rituals and other frustrating behaviors deliberately to upset or annoy you or others, and they can’t stop just because you want them to.  When OCD is present, the person isn’t in control anymore—OCD is.  Because OCD is a neurobiological anxiety disorder, your loved one’s brain isn’t functioning the way the brain does in a person who doesn’t have OCD. People with OCD are no more at fault for having the disorder than those who have other medical conditions such as diabetes or asthma. Individuals who have OCD live with the result of the brain sending continual “error messages,” leading to constant uncertainty, including worries and fears that go well beyond what most of us will ever experience.  Their anguish is real and, no matter how long these error messages persist, OCD sufferers do not grow accustomed to them. 

Regardless of how frustrating it may be for you to watch family members performing ritualistic behaviors, repeatedly asking questions or even barking orders at other family members, they don’t do it on purpose. People with OCD perform compulsions in an attempt to stop their obsessions—it’s their coping mechanism.

(Learn more about obsessions and compulsions in the OCD Facts, Individuals or Parents sections of this web site.)

Go to Individuals section

Your Role as Change Agent

Families accommodate OCD behavior.  Sometimes it’s just to “keep peace in the family” or because it seems it’s the only way you can help the one you love.  You may have wished you could stop being involved in the rituals, reassurances and avoidance behavior your family member has drawn you into.  But you’ve stayed involved fearing that stopping would make the OCD worse. This is how OCD manipulates the person who has the disorder and the family.

Today, OCD treatment experts know that it is important to involve families in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Family members can greatly enhance chances of recovery for the OCD sufferer by not accommodating or being involved in OCD rituals.  You can’t stop all at once, of course. A CBT therapist can help you gradually change the way you respond to OCD.

Learn more about how to stop accommodating OCD behavior

The CBT Therapist’s Role in Restoring Family Life

All family members will need to have guidance on how to change their behavior to stop reinforcing OCD and enabling the loved one who suffers with OCD to maximize the opportunity to gain control over the OCD.

A CBT therapist will help spouses, siblings, parents or extended family members formulate an agreement or “contract” as to how they will each respond in OCD behavior situations.

Learn more about family contracts

No one said making changes would be easy.

Managing Emotions

No one said making changes would be easy.  CBT therapy is hard work for the people who suffer with OCD—and their families.  Anxiety levels increase not only for the person undergoing therapy but also for the family.  With increased anxiety may come heightened stress, frustration, conflict, exhaustion and feelings of failure.

Learn more about managing emotions at home

Risks and Rewards for Couples

When you or your spouse has OCD, it places enormous strains on the relationship. Instead of the strong emotional bond of a loving marriage or a committed partner relationship, you may find yourself in the throes of confusion and disappointment.  Some spouses find the stress is simply too much to bear and the relationship does not survive.

The risk of emotional pain (or drain)—and the potential risk of irreparable damage to the relationship—make it important to get the partner suffering with OCD evaluated and into CBT therapy.  Try to do this as soon as you recognize that OCD is the probable cause of whatever behaviors are causing the emotional stress.  The reward for being this change agent is an increased chance of success with therapy, and the opportunity to get the relationship back on track quickly.

Learn more about the spouse’s role in overcoming OCD

Don’t Blame OCD For All Your Troubles

While OCD can be a devastating disorder, it’s not necessarily the only reason a couple experiences relationship difficulties. It would be easy to blame OCD for all your problems, but that’s not only inaccurate in most cases—it’s also a barrier to repairing emotional damage that could stem from any number of other causes.

Learn more about getting to the cause of OCD-related relationship difficulties

Go to OCD Facts section

Go to Parents section

Read personal stories of successful OCD treatment

Contact OCD Chicago for more information

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